The Missing Pieces of the San Francisco 49er Playoff Puzzle
The NFL draft is now behind us and we now see training camps starting up around the league. Rookies are getting used to the next level and veterans are returning to get back into the swing of things. The San Francisco 49ers have lots to be excited about this upcoming season and should be looking to take more control in the NFC west this year.
Changes have occurred in the organization and lots of them for the better. Mike Singletary is the man leading the troop into battler and he bring intensity and toughness to an up and coming 49er team.
Looking now at the San Francisco 49ers, I will take a position by position break down and figure out the glaring needs to 49ers need to get into the postseason.
This is the position most spectators are hoping has consistency and can lead this team into the postseason. Shaun Hill and Alex Smith are the clear leaders to duke it out for the starting role. Fifth-round pick Nate Davis and veteran Damon Huard are in the mix for backup roles.
Hill had an excellent season in 2008, going 5-3 as a starter and 7-3 overall with the 49ers. He is still trying to prove that he is the man for the job, after Singletary stated that he will be competing with Smith for the starting position. He is the favorite though and his play on the field will speak for itself when it comes down to naming the starter.
Smith is coming into the 2009 campaign with a monkey on his back. He is out to prove his number one overall status and that he can be the franchise quarterback for this team.
Showing flashes of brilliance throughout his time here, mainly in the 2006 season, he can show that he has talent. Injuries have been making fans lose faith in him, but he out to regain his fan base and be a true competitor on the field.
Frank Gore...what more is there to say? He is most likely going to be the focal point for this offense for years to come and he doesn't mind that one bit. Gore has had three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and continues to be a dominating rusher in the NFL. The only issue is him being the only solid runner in the corps.
Michael Robinson is more of a special teams player and Thomas Clayton just can't seem to get off the practice squad. Clayton posts solid numbers during the preseason, but there must be something that is holding him back that we don't see.
The 49ers then turned to the draft for an answer and it came to them from the University of Alabama in the third round, Glen Coffee.
Coffee is regarded as a upright runner and has good speed and strength to offer San Francisco a formidable tag-team in the backfield. He could look to bulk up and work on ball security, but good pick up for the 49ers to help Gore carry the workload.
Another key note to mention is the addition of UFA Kory Sheets from Purdue University. He is a speedster and could offer the 49ers a chance to offer defenses a triple threat of power, speed, and toughness.
Landing the highly touted wide receiver Michael Crabtree, out of Texas Tech with the tenth pick overall, is the thing that could get the 49ers into the playoffs.
He was regarded as arguably the best player in the draft and his stock only fell due to a stress fracture in his foot. Crabtree is going to give the passing game a serious jolt and will draw fans from all corners.
Other big news is the return of Isaac Bruce to the team. He will be a solid number one target in the pass game and will also help develop the prodigy Crabtree into an elite NFL receiver.
Brandon Jones was signed during the off-season to offer the 49ers a speed threat on the outside. Rookie sensation last year, Josh Morgan, hopes to have continued success, as does third year man Jason Hill. San Francisco can now say they have solid depth in the receiving corps and everyone will be fighting hard to win a starting role.
Is this the year for Vernon Davis? Being dubbed a "freak" by many spectators, for having speed, size, and power, he has yet to be a serious threat in the 49ers' offensive game plan. Singletary has been bold enough to state that he is a big fan of Davis and expects a lot of production in the upcoming season.
San Francisco has another speedster at tight end in Delanie Walker. These two tight ends, along with rookie Bear Pascoe, offer a sold tight end spot. All tight ends are solid blockers and they all have the ability to catch the ball. Look for big things to happen from any one of these guys during the season.
The only position that was not addressed in the draft and many critics thought this is what will haunt the 49ers later. Well when the jackpot of the draft lands in their lap, in Michael Crabtree, why would they go another way?
Signing Marvel Smith from the Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers is a step in solidifying the line. He has had injury problems in the past, but this is sure not to hinder the 49ers from progressing on the offensive forefront.
Eric Heitmann is a lock at center and so is Joe Staley at left tackle. Second year man Chilo Rachal improved as the 2008 season progressed and should be the starter at right guard. David Baas, Tony Wragge, and Adam Snyder will be battling it out for both the left guard position and other back duties.
Another key UFA the 49ers picked up is right tackle Alex Boone, out of Ohio State. Boone's name was not called at the draft for his off the field issues. He has been a heavy drinker and arrested on many occasions.
Boone has said that he is working hard at overcoming those problems and that his performance on the field is always solid. If this project works out, the 49ers have a bruising right tackle for years to come.
Here is where San Francisco struggles. After the departures of Bryant Young and Andre Carter, the 49ers have lacked a solid pass rusher on the line. Justin Smith is a tough player, but lacks the speed to get to the quarterback. He gives the 49ers a solid run defense.
Isaac Sopoaga will most likely be moved to the defensive tackle position and be a more of force with the run. Hopes of second year man out of North Carolina, Kentwan Balmer will be the solid run stopper and pass rusher that he was in college.
He dropped some body mass to improve his speed and has been working hard to help the 49ers have a solid defensive line.
The strength of this defense and for good reason. Patrick Willis is the anchor of this defense, doing whatever is necessary to get the job done. Takeo Spikes returns again and offers his wisdom and solid work ethic to the 49ers for one more run.
Outside linebackers in Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson are the key to the 49ers success on defense in 2009. Haralson is already performing superbly, but he just needs to keep it going into this new season.
Lawson is a solid player and can show he has ability to get to the quarterback, but having injuries hinder his chances of proving he is a force to be reckoned with.
Scott McKillop, the fifth round rookie out of Pittsburgh, comes to the 49ers bringing toughness and the ability to play hard all the time. He was a tackling machine in college and it earned him being the Big East Defensive Player of the Year his last year at Pittsburgh. Look for this guy to come in and make an impact early.
San Francisco's secondary should see drastic improvement from the previous season, if the pass rush also improves. Nate Clements and Walt Harris could be the best shut-down corners in the NFC west with help from the defensive line and linebackers.
Another thing that held the 49ers back last season was also depth in the secondary. Tarrell Brown, the third year man out of Texas, showed play-making ability last season and that he can hang with the big boys. Reggie Smith is being converted to the safety position to provide depth to a position that was weak last season.
Veteran Mark Roman has lost the starting job and it has been given to the young Dashon Goldson to see if there is any improvement in deep zone coverage. Roman has been seeking a trade, but found no takers. Michael Lewis is a stud in the strong safety position; providing good coverage and run stopping abilities when needed.
Rookie safety Curtis Taylor will primarily take the backup duties, but he does possess the abilities to eventually be a starter with this team. UFA's Jahi Word-Daniels and Carlos Thomas will also be in the mix for depth.
Word-Daniels has the intangibles to be a great cornerback and Thomas has excellent speed. Most likely, they will take special teams plays and possibly spell other players in the secondary.
After taking a look at all the positions, we realize that the 49ers only need solid help on the lines, both offensive and defensive, to become a true competitor in the NFC. With team they have currently, they have what it takes to win the NFC west, but probably not go too deep into the postseason.
Another big thing that they need is a franchise quarterback. We can all agree the Hill is a solid player and can lead this team for the short term, but the 49ers need to start looking long term.
If the Alex Smith of the Utah Utes shows up or Nate Davis proves all the doubters wrong and brings his A-game, then we have nothing to worry about. Those two things remain big ifs though.
Either way, this upcoming season is one to watch because this team is the closest we have been to being a playoff team. Let's let the Singletary Salvation begin!
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